IHC raises questions over FIA prosecutor’s arguments in cipher case

ISLAMABAD   -   Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday raised questions over the arguments of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) prosecutor while hearing the appeals of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) founder Imran Khan and Vice-Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi against their convictions in the cipher case. 

A division bench of IHC comprising Chief Justice of IHC Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb conducted hearing of the appeals while FIA Special Prosecutor Hamid Ali Shah presented his arguments. 

During the hearing, the FIA prosecutor presented digital and documentary evidence, including audio and video recordings verified by experts. 

Justice Miangul Hassan asked that whether the trial court had relied on these evidences in its decision. The prosecutor clarified that while the trial court mentioned the experts’ testimonies, it did not base its decision solely on them. 

He contended that making the cipher public was a violation of official secrecy, asserting that the act compromised national security. He emphasised that the cipher was intended for a limited audience of nine individuals and that its disclosure had potentially benefited other countries. 

The IHC Chief Justice asked about the criminality of merely sharing information, to which the prosecutor responded affirmatively, highlighting the detrimental impact on national security. 

Shah maintained that Imran Khan’s actions, whether intentional or not, posed a risk to the country’s diplomatic relations and security. 

Justice Miangul Hassan raised concerns about the diplomatic repercussions of demarching an ambassador, questioning the extent to which a single individual’s actions could damage international relations. The FIA prosecutor contended that the public disclosure of the cipher was a serious offense with broad implications. 

Justice Aamer questioned from the FIA Special Prosecutor about the specific documents used in the trial court that demonstrated external forces damaging Pakistan’s relations. The prosecutor claimed that relations with the United States had deteriorated. However, the Chief Justice pressed for solid evidence, pointing out that the demarche was not introduced as evidence and is not a classified document. 

Justice Aurangzeb remarked that issuing a warning to a country typically does not elicit a thank you. He asked what specific information from the cipher had been manipulated. 

Pointing towards Imran Khan’s claim, the judge asked that whether the cipher stated that if the PTI founder was not removed from office, there would be serious consequences. The prosecutor confirmed that this was the message and that Imran had admitted to it. 

Then, the judge asked the prosecution to clarify what had been altered in the cipher. The IHC CJ questioned that even if the accused admits to something, the prosecution still needs to prove its case. What was in the sealed envelope? What changes were made to the cipher?” He remarked that the prosecution must provide evidence even if the accused admits guilt. 

Justice Aurangzeb pointed out that the exact content of the cipher remained unclear. He criticised the FIA’s allegations, noting that if the PTI founder had accurately presented the cipher’s text, then what manipulation had occurred? 

Justice Aamer asked that which country benefited from this? The Special Prosecutor replied that the PTI founder had read out the cipher texts to international media, revealing what the US had said. The prosecutor also presented the PTI founder’s statement in court. 

The prosecutor mentioned that international media outlets like Voice of America and Deutsche Welle had reported on the matter, but Justice Aurangzeb mentioned that some of the mentioned sources were Indian newspapers, which could be biased. 

The FIA prosecutor explained that the cipher was not presented due to its sensitivity. At this, the judge asked that why it could not be presented in court. The IHC Chief Justice also questioned that why the prosecution had not presented the cipher document in court, emphasising that it was their responsibility to do so. The prosecutor said that they did not present the cipher as evidence because the court did not ask for it. 

However, the bench expressed concerns over the prosecution’s handling of the case, describing their approach as problematic. The bench also criticized the prosecutor, highlighting the inconsistency in the prosecution’s argument. 

In response, the prosecutor cited confidentiality as the reason for not presenting the document in court. However, the IHC Chief Justice expressed dissatisfaction with this explanation, indicating that the prosecution needed to provide substantive evidence to support their case. 

Later, the bench adjourned hearing of the case till Wednesday (today).

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